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Life in the Penthouse

In Towering Redwoods, an Abundance of Tiny Unseen Life,” a team of scientists, eager to survey the lifeforms invisible to those with two feet planted firmly on the ground, climbed high into the canopy of a magnificent Redwood to catalog its hidden treasure of epiphytes.

The researchers found “trunks wrapped in blankets of fuzzy, grass-green moss; twigs covered by whimsical chartreuse lichen wisps; and in places where they could eke out a precarious roothold, a variety of saplings and bushes—currant, huckleberry, hemlock and more—some of which had epiphytic communities of their own. All told, the survey found that redwoods contain more diversity—282 epiphytes in and directly beneath the trees—than other tree species” previously surveyed. The “study also uncovered a species new to science—a lichen as diminutive as its redwood host is towering.”

Because climate change may complicate life for both the Redwoods and these other organisms that live symbiotically with them, scientists are racing to learn as much as they can about this fragile ecosystem and the “science-fiction-like organisms that exist as symbiotic assemblies of fungi and algae or cyanobacteria.” This is especially important since lichens have already provided us with antibiotics, yielded ingredients used to treat constipation, arthritis and kidney diseases, and have provided other compounds “being investigated as cancer-fighting agents.”

Visit the Save the Redwoods League to learn more about these treasures of the Pacific Coast.